democrats – Florida Politics

Joe Clements: The ‘big picture’ predictions on Election 2018

This cycle, our firm has worked with dozens of Republican campaigns from Cabinet positions to Congress. One advantage of our workload has been an opportunity to see the results of dozens of polls and focus groups conducted by several national and Florida-based research firms.

Without sharing specifics on data, campaigns or researchers, I want to give a few of my big picture ideas and predictions about what is happening this cycle in Florida.

After I analyze an article of research, I keep notes in a document, which eventually provides an outline for the macro trends I notice across research products. The items below are extracted almost verbatim from my notes and I hope they help provide some context for the current cycle.

Andrew Gillum is underestimated by establishment Republicans and Democrats. Democratic activists are angry about Donald Trump and want someone who shares their anger. In a crowded primary, Gillum has a built-in advantage with African-American voters and has a clear play to voters under 35 years old. He is also hurting Philip Levine and Gwen Graham by pushing them further left.

– The Democratic left flank is the single most underestimated factor of this election. Bernie Sanders was not a fluke. For the first time in a century, there is a true socialist/social justice/leftists voter group on the left with a clear guiding philosophy that pulls and energizes the rest of the party. The problem for Democrats is that their left wing is as far, if not further from center, then the Republican right.

– The Republican conservative right has replaced the role of philosophy (conservatism) with personality (Trump). There is no longer a uniting philosophy on the right outside of populist nationalism. Republican voters appear to differentiate between Trump and other Republican candidates but do want to see reflections of Trump in their candidates.

– Trump is equal parts headwind and tailwind for Republicans. Lower propensity Republican-leaning voters do appear eager to cast a proxy vote in support of him. It’s not clear the same energy exists to cast protests votes against Trump among lower propensity Democratic voters.

– College educated suburban and urban women are going to be the Achilles’ heel for Republicans. These women previously leaned Republican but dislike Trump and will vote Democrat if a good option is available. These “Whole Foods Moms” are the 2018 manifestation of the 2004 “Soccer Moms.” They still vote for security and safety, but Parkland, not 9/11, is now their marquee fear.

– Republicans have work to do on immigration. The issue is considered vital among the Republican base but general election voters think Democrats would do a better job handling the issue.

– Democrats have a real shot at Attorney General. They have decent candidates and room to use populist messaging that appeals to Republican segments on “Big Pharma,” “Big Sugar,” and “Big Insurers.” This race will be the clearest square off between an economic growth message and a populist message.

– Millennials are likely to comprise a significant portion of the electorate for the first time this year as they’ve aged into their thirties. My prediction is that men will break slight Republican and women will break hard Democratic.

– Guns won’t be the watershed issue in the general. Both sides will use the issue to drive turnout but it does not appear to be the strongest issue with moderate voters. We are likely to hear a lot about jobs and the economy come October.

– Floridians are generally optimistic about Florida’s path, which is favorable for incumbent candidates and parties, but Democrats and Republicans live in different worlds on the issue. Republicans are happy, Democrats are not happy, and NPA voters lean happy. Democrats really need the economy to slump and Republicans need it to keep growing.

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Joe Clements is co-founder and CEO of Strategic Digital Services, a Tallahassee-based tech company. He is also co-founder of Bundl, a campaign contribution management app.

Carrie Pilon, Democratic challenger to Jeff Brandes, withdraws from state Senate race

Carrie Pilon, the Democrat trial attorney challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes in a battleground state Senate district, has withdrawn from the race.

Citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member, Pilon said, in a statement first provided to Florida Politics, that it is “impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves.”

The first sign that something was amiss with Pilon’s campaign came last week, when the most recent campaign finance reports showed that Pilon’s fundraising efforts had dramatically trailed off. That report showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising.

This led to speculation at last weekend’s annual gathering of Florida Democrats that Pilon was on the verge of exiting the race.

Democrat insiders attempted to persuade Pilon to stay in the race, although many were unaware of the personal issues affecting Pilon’s ability to engage in the campaign fully.

Polling has consistently shown SD 24 is winnable for a Democratic candidate. A recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.

Pilon’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start.

Shortly after she made her announcement launching her campaign, Brandes touted the endorsement of Pilon’s father-in-law, Ray Pilon, a former state Representative who is seeking to return to the Legislature.

Asked by Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune if he wanted to elaborate on his decision to back Brandes publicly over his daughter-in-law, Pilon noted in a text message that as a member of the Republican Party of Sarasota’s executive committee he is prohibited from endorsing a Democrat. But that did not mean he had to support Brandes. He could have stayed quiet about the race.

Still, Pilon would go on to earn her own endorsements, mostly from other Democrats. She also raised $150,000 for her bid, no easy feat against an incumbent lawmaker.

Democrats were hopeful that in this election cycle, with its record number of women candidates, that Pilon could put SD 24 in their column.

Because she has withdrawn after the candidate qualifying period, the Democratic Party will select a replacement for Pilon. According to her campaign, the party has already identified several potential candidates.

The Democrats may end up fielding a candidate, but it’s likely that Pilon was their best bet. She was just the kind of candidate — smart enough to hold her own against the wonky Brandes, but unknown enough not to have too many negatives for his campaign to exploit — who could have given the Republican a real run.

“As a daughter of an elderly dad, I am keenly aware of what Carrie’s family is going through,” said state Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Senate Democratic Leader-designate. “Her struggle is all too familiar to thousands of families across our state, and we must do a better job of helping them.

“The Democratic Caucus of the Florida Senate was attracted to Carrie as a candidate because she has been a leader in her local community and knows how to solve problems,” Gibson added. “I have no doubt she will continue to serve her community and make Florida better. Our thanks to Carrie for carrying the mantle thus far.”

Florida Democrats’ ambition of flipping the state Senate probably ends with Pilon’s withdrawal.

Senate Democrats are also faced with the conundrum of how to fund the slate of challengers they have recruited as part of a broader effort to win control of the Chamber. The Dems have quality candidates in four other races (versus Republicans Keith Perry, Kelli Stargel, Dana Young and Ed Hooper), but probably only have the money to fund two or three full-fledged state Senate campaigns.

While Pilon’s supporters and the Democrats may be disappointed in her decision to withdraw from the race, there is one community undoubtedly relieved by it: the staff and families of the students at Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School. Both Pilon and Brandes (along with this writer) send their children to the well-regarded private school. Having two parents running against each other had already become an awkward topic on social media.

Pilon’s departure from the race heads off the possibility of any heated political debates on the school’s playgrounds or in the student pickup line.

Here is Pilon’s full statement:

“I want to thank all of my supporters and volunteers, who made this campaign special. This campaign would not be where it is today without all of you, and I will always be grateful for your support.

“It is only after much thoughtful contemplation and family consultation that I must say, with a heavy heart, that I am withdrawing from this race for personal reasons. Out of respect for the privacy of our family, I do not wish to go into great detail about these circumstances.

“However, I can say that a close family member is experiencing some serious and unexpected health problems. These health issues, unfortunately, have made it impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves, while also being able to provide the support my family needs.

“We still have a full slate of strong Democrats up and down the ticket, and across the state, who will bring desperately needed change to Tallahassee.

“Until we change the makeup of the state Legislature, Tallahassee will continue to ignore the needs of working Floridians and continue working for special interests. I am encouraged that my short presence in this race has already brought attention to people, communities, and issues that are vital to change. I will continue to fight with our fellow candidates to ensure that change happens and will work with the Democratic Party to ensure that a strong Democratic candidate takes my place on the ballot.

“I extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who supported this campaign, and share our vision for SD-24, and Florida.”

Darren Soto, Alan Grayson set for two CD 9 debates

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, Soto’s predecessor and challenger this year, have agreed on two debates and two joint forums in the weeks leading to the Aug. 28 Democratic primary.

Soto’s campaign announced Tuesday it was committing to a Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida Aug. 2 debate and a Spectrum News 13 Aug. 8 debate. The Tiger Bay forum, open only to members of the club, is a noon event. The Spectrum forum is set for 7 p.m. and would broadcast on that cable TV company’s 24-hour news channel.

Also, Soto’s campaign said he would be participating in the upcoming July 16 Polk County Progressive Democratic Caucus candidate forum, and a July 31 forum arranged by several organizations including the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Grayson already has committed to those. Last week he accused Soto of ducking the debates and forums, while Soto’s campaign said, essentially, hold on. The pair also previously both participated in a Polk County Democratic Executive Committee forum in June.

Grayson’s campaign noted Tuesday that Soto did not refer to another potential debate to which Grayson committed, offered by WDBO radio/Cox Media Group.

Soto and Grayson are competing to represent CD 9, which covers south Orange, all of Osceola, and eastern Polk counties. Grayson served the district from 2013-17. Soto succeeded him when Grayson chose to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016. Soto beat his wife Dena Grayson and two others in the Democratic primary before beating Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in the general election.

Liebnitzky again is the Republican candidate this year.

Gwen Graham tops Democratic rivals in outside contributions, but not June fundraising

With a combined haul of more than $633,000 for her campaign and independent political committee, and with all of it coming from outside donors – sort of – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is declaring her early June fundraising swamped her four Aug. 28 primary opponents.

Graham’s campaign is reporting it raised $152,291 and her independent committee Gwen Graham for Florida brought in another $481,350 during the just-posted campaign finance reporting period of June 1-22.

Graham’s campaign hailed that total as more than all four of her Democratic primary opponents raised from supporters combined during the same period.

“Florida Democrats get it. With Donald Trump in the White House and a woman’s right to choose on the line, they know we can’t afford to lose this election,” Campaign Manager Julia Woodward stated in a news release. “Florida Democrats know Gwen Graham is the best candidate to finally take back our state, which is why they’re supporting our campaign more than all of our primary opponents, combined.”

Yet those bragging rights comes with a few caveats that fuzz over the full financial pictures for any of the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls.

First, her Democratic rivals Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, and Chris King all bolstered their campaigns with big personal checks that Graham’s campaign is discounting because they’re not donations from supporters. As a result, in the end each of them brought in far more money in the 22-day period than Graham managed.

Second, while rival Andrew Gillum did not raise much at all from June 1-22, his Forward Florida independent political committee cashed contributors’ checks totaling $451,000 just in the next three or four days.

Third, while technically all of Graham’s money came from outside contributors, the biggest of those was her father, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who donated $250,000 to the Gwen Graham for Florida political committee on the last day of the reporting period.

End result: Palm Beach businessman Greene raised $3.6 million during the period, all of it donated from his own bank account; former Miami Beach Mayor Levine raised more than $1.2 million during the period for his campaign and his independent committee All About Florida, including $1 million he lent his campaign; Winter Park businessman King raised $815,489 combined for his official campaign and his independent committee Rise and Lead, including $800,000 for his campaign; and Tallahassee Mayor Gillum managed just a paltry $108,778 in total contributions before his independent committee Forward Florida cashed the late-June checks from New York billioniare George Soros, the Barbara A. Stiefel Trust, and a couple of others.

Strictly counting outside contributions, including that of Bob Graham, former U.S. Rep. Graham’s total of $633,641 for June 1-22 compared with just $358,674 brought in by the other four candidates and their committees.

Graham also finished the period with more cash on hand than any other candidate. Graham had $3.7 million in the bank — $2 million more than her next closest competitor, at the end of the day on June 22.

“While other candidates are increasingly relying on out-of-state billionaires, secret money and their personal bank accounts, Gwen is continuing to widen her lead in grassroots supporters who are donating $5, $10, or $25 at a time,” Woodward stated. “This is more than just a campaign for governor, this is a movement to restore our public schools, conserve our environment, and protect our access to health care — and we’re going to win because we have real Floridians supporting our fight.”

Alan Grayson puts up ‘Dump Trump’ billboard for CD 9 race

If there is any doubt that progressive Democrats are ready to campaign against Trump, Alan Grayson already is doing so — as a primary campaign issue.

The former Democratic congressman seeking to win his seat back in Florida’s 9th Congressional District is putting up billboard’s declaring, in huge writing, “DUMP TRUMP,” as a campaign slogan.

At least one has appeared, on U.S. Highway 27 in Polk County, featuring Grayson’s picture and the message: “VOTE FOR ALAN GRAYSON AUG. 28 PRIMARY.”

Grayson declined to provide any details on the billboard campaign.

It could attract angry Democratic voters in a primary election who might otherwise not be doing much to compare Grayson with his August 28 Democratic primary opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto.

Soto has been critical of Trump. But Grayson always has been one to weaponize criticism. And he’s been firing at Trump a long time. Last year, back when he was still mulling a run this year, Grayson launched an organization and a website, Lock Him Up Now, dedicated to collecting evidence for a Trump impeachment.

The winner of the Democratic primary goes up against Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who has been supportive of Trump.

Can Democrats turn high court blues into blue wave?

The U.S. Supreme Court and the two Republicans duking it out to succeed Gov. Rick Scott unintentionally helped ramp up enthusiasm for Florida Democrats in advance of the Democrats’ big blue bash this weekend.

The court handed down a series of victories for President Donald Trump, including a union-bashing decision that doesn’t directly affect Florida but will shrink the coffers of public-sector unions that typically dump major dollars behind Democratic candidates.

The court also upheld the latest version of Trump’s ban on travel from some predominantly Muslim countries, creating an uproar among civil libertarians and immigration advocates who accuse the president of having declared war on Islam.

But the most chilling news for Democrats was the decision of 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire, giving Trump the power to reshape the Supreme Court for generations to come by locking down a conservative majority with which Kennedy sometimes parted ways.

Kennedy’s most memorable decisions kept abortion rights intact, cemented same-sex marriage in all states and maintained the use of affirmative-action policies at universities. He also voted to do away with excessive sentences for juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities.

Kennedy’s decision to leave the bench “sends a stark message to the tens of millions of Americans who have long turned to the court for the vindication of many of their most cherished rights and protections: Look somewhere else,” editors at The New York Times warned.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee knows where he wants voters to cast their eyes. He’s the head of the Democratic Governors Association and will be the keynote speaker at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue event this weekend in Hollywood.

“People understand what a threat Donald Trump poses. People understand you can’t depend on the Supreme Court to save us from Donald Trump. You’ve got to have Democratic governors to save us,” Inslee said in a telephone interview.

The Dems have a crowded field of five major candidates vying for the open governor’s seat in Florida, and, like their cohorts throughout the nation, they’ve all made Trump their top target.

Inslee said he doesn’t think that strategy will backfire in November.

“There’s no Republican Party at this point. There’s just the Trump party. We’re not putting this around anybody’s neck. They put the noose around their own neck,” the governor said.

Democrats throughout the country — including in Florida, where Democratic and Republican voter registration is almost evenly split, and independents make up a little more than a quarter of the electorate — “are really, really, intensely, passionately energized about voting” this year, according to Inslee.

Democrats will unite following the primary to support the alternative to GOP gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis, who Inslee called “Republicans who are going to be slavishly devoted to Donald Trump.”

“Florida’s a big state, and a dynamic state, and a very winnable race. So for all those reasons, this is a very top-tier priority for us,” Inslee said.

Adam Putnam warns against ‘the left taking over our state’

Adam Putnam returned to his “Florida First” agenda at the Republicans’ Sunshine Summit Friday pressing for a state that “innovates things, grows things, manufactures things” and vocational education to support it.

The day after the Sunshine Summit hosted the FOX News Florida Republican gubernatorial debate that almost entirely focused on national issues, Putnam almost never mentioned the debate or his opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, at least not by name. However, he did find the need to re-state what had become the dominant message of Thursday night’s debate: full support for President Donald Trump.

Yet instead of contrasting with DeSantis, Putnam instead went after Democrats, as if looking beyond the August 28 Republican gubernatorial primary.

“The left is dedicated to taking over our state,” Putnam warned.

“It is for one reason and one reason only: they are focused solely on defeating our president when he runs for re-election in 2020 and we can’t let that happen,” Putnam continued. “Don’t give them back the mansion. Don’t give them the Legislature. Let us keep the cabinet and let us keep the good times rolling for the state of Florida.”

In his speech Friday at the Republican Party of Florida’s summit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel, Putnam briefly made an exception, going after DeSantis, not by name, but by reputation, as someone who doesn’t spend much time in Florida and doesn’t know Florida issues.

“We need a governor who knows our state; knows every corner of our state from Perdido Key to the Dry Tortugas;who doesn’t need a map or GPS to get around; who knows our schools, the difference between a school district like Hamilton County, which has only two schools in the whole county, and some of the biggest districts in the country,” Putnam said.

Putnam pushed his plan to reintroduce vocational education into middle schools and high school to prepare skilled graduates, who can get higher-paying jobs.

He credited Florida’s low crime rate, at a 37-year low he said, to minimum sentencing, protection of Second Amendment rights, and “plenty of room in the prison system to keep evil people behind bars.”

Beyond that, Putnam made it clear the big challenge was staving off Democrats’ most extreme ideas, such as making Florida a sanctuary state, raising taxes.

“That is not a direction Florida wants to go. But folks, complacency is not an option,” he said.

And he warned against the potential for Democrats with California billionaire Tom Steyer’s announcement that he would donate $1 million to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s Democratic gubernatorial effort, joining  the $500,000 provided by New York billionaire George Soros.

“That’s what’s at stake,” Putnam said.

Ten Central Florida house seats set for primaries August 28

Ten seats in Central Florida’s portion of the Florida House of Representatives will have primaries on August 28, with four Republican and six Democratic in-party battles set by Friday’s ballot qualifying.

The big primary battles among Republicans are preparing for two open seats now held by Republicans, and among the Democrats for four places where they see prospects to knock off incumbent Republicans.

Meanwhile, five other seats are lined up for November showdowns between one Republican and one Democrat.

Two other races already have been decided, as Democratic state Reps. John Cortes in House District 43 in north Osceola County and Kamia Brown in House District 45 in western Orange County drew no opponents and won. In House District 46, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Antone has all but won but still must go into the November election because a write-in candidate qualified to challenge.

The most intriguing primary matchup for Democrats emerges in House District 44, where five Democrats jumped in wanting to take on Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski, and then started dropping out. The third withdrawal, Eddy Dominguez, occurred this week, leaving former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and activist Melanie Gold, both of Orlando, remaining for the Democrats’ primary.

Olszewski gets the HD 44 Democratic primary winner in November election to represent southwest Orange County.

A winnowing of potential candidates also occurred in House District 27, in western Volusia County, leaving Democrats Neil Heinrichsen and Carol Lawrence, both of Deltona, set to meet in a primary after another Democrat dropped out.

Republican state Rep. David Santiago of Deltona will meet the HD 27 Democrats’ winner in November.

In House District 29, lawyer and social worker Darryl Block of Lake Mary faces lawyer Tracey Kagan of Longwood in the Democratic primary, again after another Democrat dropped out.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood will get the Democrats’ HD 29 primary winner in November for that north-central Seminole County district.

In House District 30, Clark Anderson of Winter Park, Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil, and newly-entered Brendan Ramirez of Orlando all have qualified for the Democratic primary.

The winner will face Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes in the November election for HD 30, covering south-central Seminole and north Orange.

House District 47 is the only seat that will see primaries for both parties, thanks to the late entry of Lou Forges on the Democrats’ side this week. Forges, of Apopka, meets Anna Eskamani of Orlando on the Democrat side, while Mikaela Nix of Orlando meets Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park in the preliminaries. The seat will open up with the departure of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Miller.

In House District 50, covering part of east Orange and north Brevard County, incumbent state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando will meet George Collins of Orlando in the Republican primary.

The Republicans’ HD 50 primary winner meets Democrat Pam Dirschka of Titusville in November.

In House District 51, an open seat representing central Brevard, Republicans Tyler Sirois, and Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish will meet in the Republican primary, with the eliminations of two other Republicans who also had filed for that seat. It’s opening up with the departure of Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson.

The HD 51 Republican primary winner faces Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa in November.

In House District 52, incumbent state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic meets Matt Nye of Melbourne in the Republican primary for the central-Brevard district.

Democrat Seeta Durjan Begui gets the winner of that HD 52 Republican primary in November.

In House District 53, covering south Brevard, Democrats Phil Moore of West Melbourne and FiorD’Aliza A. Frias of Palm Bay meet in the Democratic primary.

The winner of the Democrats’ HD 53 primary will face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Fine in the general election.

The head-to-head general elections set for the November 6 general election include:

— Republican David Smith of Winter Springs versus Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry, battling for the open seat for Florida’s House District 28, covering eastern Seminole. That’s an open seat, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

— Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora will meet Debra Kaplan of Eustis battling for House District 31, covering northern Lake County and a piece of northwest Orange.

— Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of Saint Cloud will meet Democrat Barbara Cady of Kissimmee for House District 42 covering east and central Osceola.

— Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando will face Republican Scotland Calhoun of Orlando for House District 48, including parts of south and east Orange.

— Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando will face Republican Ben Griffin for House District 49, covering parts of north and east Orange.

Dennis Baxley, Dorothy Hukill and Kelli Stargel avoid primaries in Central Florida state Senate runs

Republican state Sens. Dennis Baxley, Dorothy Hukill, and Kelli Stargel all managed to avoid Republican primaries as they seek re-elections in their Central Florida districts this fall.

With qualifying for the ballot closed at noon and nearly all the elections officially updated to final status, Baxley of Ocala, whose Senate District 12 covers Lake County and a broad swath of West Central Florida, will be in a showdown with Democrat Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora in November. Both qualified for the ballot, as did a write-in candidate.

In Senate District 14, covering much of the Space Coast, Hukill of Port Orange is in, as is Democratic challenger Mel Martin of Cocoa. Another Democrat, Brandon Maggard, appears to have dropped out as he has not filed any paperwork in months. But the Florida Division of Elections was slow Friday updating some races and still listed Maggard as “active” after 5 p.m. Friday, even though qualifying closed at noon Friday.

In District 22, covering Polk County and part of Lake County, Stargel, of Lakeland will get the winner of a Democratic primary. Former Circuit Judge Bob Doyel of Winter Haven and former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale will be battling in the August 28 Democratic primary for that honor.

Orlando Democratic guberatorial debate canceled

The Orange County Democratic Party has canceled efforts to have a gubernatorial debate in Orlando next Tuesday because Philip Levine and Gwen Graham would not agree to participate.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed regret over the last-week cancellation he announced Friday and that voters in Orange County “will not have the opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their governor in one open, public forum.”

Hodge said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King had committed weeks ago, but not former U.S. Rep. Graham nor former Miami Beach Mayor Levine. The fifth candidate, newly-entered Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, also had recently committed, his campaign said.

“Regrettably the Orange County Democratic Party has been forced to cancel the planned Democratic gubernatorial debate scheduled for next Tuesday, June 26th, due to an inability to secure all of the candidates for the event,” Hodge said in a statement. “We have been working hard over the past six weeks to make this event a success, and I would like to thank all of our volunteers who worked to make this happen. It is unfortunate that the voters of Orange County will not have an opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their Governor directly in one open, public forum.”

The debate was being planned for Barnett Park on Orlando’s west side, for a 7 p.m. forum.

“The Democratic Executive Committee will be working to find another way to connect our voters directly with our five candidates seeking the governor’s office, and hope to announce another event in the near future,” Hodge added.

Gillum and King blasted their rivals for not being willing to join them. The first four Democratic gubernatorial candidates have debated three times, and Gillum and King have done well, getting strong reviews for their performances. But now Levine and Graham are showing signs of pulling ahead in polls heading toward the August 28 primary.

Gillum said he’s going to come anyway.

“It’s critical that Orange County voters hear about our priorities for this state, and since my opponents refuse to join me for a debate, I’m looking forward to hosting a town hall in its place on Tuesday night,” Gillum said in a statement. “Floridians need to know where we stand, and who we stand for.”

King said it was too bad that neither Orlando nor Jacksonville are getting to see the Democrats go head-to-head.

“Politics and politicians, as usual, have failed progressive values and ordinary Floridians for too long and Democrats deserve to judge for themselves whether the other candidates for governor offer a fresh vision and a break from the past. That’s why I’m disappointed that some candidates in this race have refused invitations to debate in Orlando and Jacksonville,” King said in a statement. “We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish language, African American, Caribbean and other diverse media outlets are included as well.”

Levine’s campaign responded with a reminder that the Democrats initially had agreed to five debates, even though that included none in Orlando or Jacksonville.

“Our campaign worked successfully with the Florida Democratic Party on a number of agreed-upon debates and forums. After weeks of negotiations, all campaigns agreed to five debates, including a statewide televised debate that will air in Orange County,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, said in a statement. “The Mayor is excited and proud to continue to share his vision for Florida and his progressive record of accomplishments directly with voters in the upcoming three debates and town halls.”

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